This blog is based on a conversation between Somia Imran (PhD in Clinical Psychology), co-founder and current media coordinator of ScotDPN, and Early-Career-Academic (ECA) Dr Roxanne Hawkins, who is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of the West of Scotland. In Section 1, Roxanne tells us about her transition from PhD studentship to lectureship; in Section 2, she shares her insight around four themes we have covered in our latest teaching-focused event “Nuts and Bolts of Teaching; Within the PhD and Beyond”. See the details here https://scotdpn.wordpress.com/past-events-2/
Somia: Welcome Roxanne, tell us a bit about yourself?
Roxanne: I am a Lecturer in Psychology within the School of Education and Social Sciences, based at the Paisley campus, University of the West of Scotland. I am a Developmental/Clinical Psychologist and I mostly teach within developmental psychology, introduction to psychology courses, research methods, and mental health. I also co-ordinate and teach on a new module that I developed for final year undergraduate students, ‘the Psychology of Human-Animal Interactions’. My research interests largely focus on the benefits of animals and the human-animal bond for health, happiness, and mental wellbeing across the lifespan and the role of animals within adverse environments (e.g. domestic abuse, child, and pet abuse). I am keen to raise public interest and knowledge in, and academic awareness of, the important roles that animals play within people’s lives and society. Therefore, I have launched The Science of Pets with the mission of facilitating public engagement with research into human-animal relationships and for sharing the latest research findings (www.scienceofpets.com www.facebook.com/scienceofpets).
Somia: Would you like to tell us about your academic career so far?
Roxanne: I obtained a Bachelor of Science (BSc Hons) from Bangor University in 2011 followed by a Master of Research (MRes) from the University of Roehampton in 2012. My early research included experimental, biological and behavioural techniques to study psychopathology in both human and non-human primates. I then worked as a data administrator for a medical company before moving to Edinburgh in 2014 to take on a research assistant role. I worked in collaboration with the Scottish SPCA to scientifically evaluate an animal cruelty prevention programme in schools throughout Scotland, before beginning my PhD in 2015. My PhD was focused on examining psychological factors underlying both positive and negative aspects of child-animal relationships and designing and evaluating new interventions to prevent childhood animal cruelty. Alongside my PhD, I worked as a tutor on several courses: MSc in Applied Psychology for Children and Young People, MSc in Psychology of Mental Health (Conversion), Mental Health & Well-being of Children, Young People & Families (Online Distance Learning). During my PhD I also took on several part-time research assistant roles. During the last 6 months of my PhD, I began working as a full-time Teaching Fellow (1 year maternity cover for a Lecturer in Developmental Psychology). There, I taught lectures and workshops to students within education, both at BA, MSc, PGDE, and professional training. I was Module Coordinator for Child and Adolescent Development (MSc). I also supervised dissertations and took on the role as personal tutor. Finally, I worked as a Postdoctoral Research Associate for three months before commencing my current position as a Lecturer in Psychology at University of the West of Scotland in December 2018.
Somia: What are your current teaching activities and interests?
Roxanne: I teach primarily within developmental, social, and clinical psychology, but also teach specialist topics such as human-animal interactions, developmental disabilities, evolutionary psychology, and clinical interventions. I supervise BSc and MSc student’s dissertation topics that focus on human-animal relationships, but also broadly mental health related topics. For PhD supervision, I am second supervisor for topics that focus on human-animal interactions.
Somia: What differences are there when you work as a tutor, teaching fellow and lecturer?
Roxanne: All these are very different stages of an academic career. As a Course tutor, I experienced more interactive small group teaching and marking. I think that there was less responsibility and more room to develop my skills and learn from senior academics, however less autonomy as you needed to teach the material that was developed by the course organiser (even if no notes were provided!). Looking back, I was quite nervous teaching at first and didn’t really know how to teach, but I learnt a lot, especially through working towards my Associate Fellowship from the HEA (Higher Education Academy), where I spent a lot of time researching innovative and engaging teaching methods and reflecting on my own experience as I implemented what I learnt, and whether it worked well or not. I am so grateful for those early experiences and I have come a long way since those first workshops!
As a course tutor, I also took part in course development activities, for example, I developed a series of lectures for MSc students on study skills in collaboration with IAD (the Institute for Academic Development). This was great experience for learning how to develop interactive lecture material and this also gave me my first experience of teaching to a large class (100+ students) in a lecture theatre. I believe these experiences really helped me to get a teaching fellow job. As a Teaching Fellow, you get thrown in the deep end, but I really loved the job and the department, and the students were brilliant. Alongside teaching lectures and workshops, I developed teaching material, Learn sites, course handbooks, assessment material etc. I also had my first experience of running a module as Course Coordinator, my first experience as Module Moderator, and my first experience as dissertation supervisor, and personal tutor. The 1:1 student support and pastoral roles were what I enjoyed the most during this time. This post was invaluable for developing as an academic and helped me feel prepared for my first lectureship. Now as a lecturer, I have more responsibilities and am more independent; I feel more confident teaching but still always looking for ways to improve and for innovative methods and techniques to engage students and make learning fun but meaningful. As a lecturer, you also contribute more to the department and the university as a whole, such as bringing in money through grants, developing brand new courses for students to broaden the portfolio of modules available (e.g., I developed the BSc module in Psychology of Human-Animal Interactions), being an active member on things like the Research Governance Group, the REF2021 internal review panel, reviewing ethics applications, etc… I take on more leadership roles such as being Head of Year, developing and leading on modules, being course moderator, being an external examiner, being line manager to postdoctoral researchers, and being 2nd supervisor to PhD students.
Somia: What type of training do you think is needed as we go up the academic ladder?
• Course tutor: This is the time to get as much training as possible while you have fewer responsibilities and more time to actually go to training events (and these are free to students!). My advice would be to sign up for everything you have time for that your university offers. For example, at Edinburgh we went to lots of workshops through IAD on effective teaching, effective marking and feedback, developing leadership skills, teaching small and large classes, developing material, etc. This is also the perfect time to work towards your Associate Fellowship from the Higher Education Academy: this qualification is becoming one of the essential criteria when you apply for teaching fellowships and lectureships. There are different routes to gaining this qualification, I went down the personal blog/reflection route where I met my personal mentor on a regular basis who shared their expertise, and I slowly built up my portfolio of teaching and evidence-based account of practice and reflection which was assessed by an external panel. Other routes can be more formal, such as completing the Postgraduate Certificate (PG Cert) in teaching.
• Teaching Fellow: This was quite similar to the above, you just have less time to commit to training events, and so my personal experience was mostly ‘learning on the job’. There are still opportunities to develop teaching skills during this time, and again it will depend on what your university offers to staff, or what free online events are available. I still signed up to as many as possible around my busy teaching schedule. You could think about working towards Fellowship of the HEA as you gain more experience.
• Lecturer: You could think about working towards Senior Fellowship of the HEA as you take on more responsibilities. There are still some training events available, but these are not always free or affordable. Again, it will depend on your university, but most usually offer some training events and online modules to help you develop as an academic. These usually focus on wider issues rather than specific teaching methods (e.g., diversity and inclusion, student mental health and safeguarding), or personal training (e.g., leadership skills, influencing skills et.).
Somia: What are your thoughts around engaging students with small group teaching, and what are the differences in running a small group versus a large group?
Roxanne: For small group teaching, we use a student-led approach where students are involved in problem-solving activities within smaller groups, and I facilitate the sessions. For example, we get them to create a poster, design public engagement events, develop a research study based on a grant call, put together an intervention evaluation plan, etc… I think it`s important to encourage idea sharing and to build up students` confidence in speaking in front of the class. I’ve found that students prefer to have a specific task to work on in groups, rather than have a discussion. Smaller group activities can also take place online through Teams using breakout rooms, and I found Padlet has been great for interactive group tasks. Something that I did recently during lockdown was an online ‘pub quiz’ where students were tested on what they had learnt throughout the module, but it was fun and interactive. At the start of small group sessions, I always give an overview of the topic and highlight how the workshop builds on what they have learnt so far, and at the end, I give a summary of the key things that students came up with and learnt throughout the session.
In large groups, there is more content to be covered and as such the same approach can be used with some modification. For example, I break down a lecture into small sections (20 mins each) to ensure that students don’t get fatigued; I break sections up with videos, small comfort breaks, posing questions to the class, or asking them to discuss an idea with the people sitting next to them, or get students to participate in Menti Meter which is great for posing a question to the class, and each student enters their thoughts into the phone and these pop-up on the lecture screen. This approach is student-friendly and a fun way where students can easily use their smart phones to take part. Online, I encourage students to use the chat-box to share ideas, post questions and comment on things they find interesting. I also organise live drop-in session for students, in case students want to ask questions about the lecture if they didn’t get chance to ask on the day.
Somia: What are your experiences of different types of feedback (peer feedback, feedback vs feed-forward) & assessments, and how students interact with feedback?
Roxanne: In feedback, I mention three strengths and three constructive comments to take forward to improve their work, with signposts to relevant resources if needed. For summative assessments, I give the marking criteria in advance so that students can use them as a checklist to mark their own work before submission. I also encourage students to swap each other’s work and give peer feedback. I show example essays from the previous year and discuss with students to what extent they agree or disagree with the given mark and feedback and how they can take that feedback forward. I organise drop-in sessions for different aspects of assessments such as choice of topic and essay structure. Students are encouraged to send me questions via email ahead of the sessions, then I make a presentation covering all those questions followed by a live Q&A session where students can discuss and ask more questions. In my opinion, this approach especially encourages students who are not comfortable to ask questions in front of others. I have also created assessment online videos that students can watch and re-watch in their own time.
Somia: What is your understanding around Roles & Responsibilities – Student mental health and how to manage that, how to facilitate inclusivity, boundaries of a tutor/lecturer?
Roxanne: If students contact us with concerns, our main role is signposting them to academic and mental health support services, and to follow up with them to ensure that they are getting the help they need. As academics, we are not trained therapists and so we have to set those boundaries early on, but we can build rapport and trust with our students so that they know that they can confide in us and come to us if they are facing difficulties, whether personal or academic, to ensure they get the help they need. Sometimes they might just want a chat and a cup of tea, but other times they need actions to be taken such as study interruptions, getting appointments with student disability advisors or getting priority appointments with counsellors, or they may need help with submitting extensions and extenuating circumstances, or need help understanding where to go to for housing or financial support. I always keep the information about the University support services handy as well as a list of external resources (e.g., mental health support) so that I can share it with my students when needed. It’s always good to keep in regular contact with students, and if you know they are struggling, ensure that you drop them a message to ask how they are doing and if they need support with anything throughout the semester. If you teach on a module and notice that a student has not attended for a while, this can be a sign that the student is struggling and so the first thing we do is contact the personal tutor to ask if they are aware of any issues and to get in contact with the student to check-in with them.
Somia: What are your views around the Importance of CPD (Continued Professional Development), and what methods do you suggest for improving your teaching practices and evaluation of your work?
Roxanne: As I have mentioned previously, if you are interested in an academic career, it`s helpful to get a teaching qualification. I became an Associate Fellow awarded by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) during my PhD (For details see here). When you apply for an academic job, they ask whether you have this teaching qualification and so it`s better to complete at least the Associate Fellow category alongside the PhD. I think as a PhD student it`s easy to make time for CPD activities than as a lecturer. Therefore, try to attend as many training workshops as you can during your PhD. Now I want to do the Senior Fellow category, but it seems difficult to make time for it because of my teaching commitments. As I said, I attended various IAD workshops that helped me develop my skills and learn from more experienced tutors early on. It`s the best way to learn new and innovative teaching methods.
Somia: Finally, one piece of advice you would like to give to early career academics?
Roxanne: Don’t give up, if you are passionate and determined you will be successful in whatever you choose to do. Get involved in as many different activities that you can to develop a wide set of skills. I know they say ‘you should learn to say no’ which is important in some circumstances, but I’ve learnt that it was from saying ‘yes!’ to opportunities that helped me gain the skills and experience I needed to land my first permanent position.
Somia: Many thanks Roxanne for sharing your experience with us!
Roxanne: Thank you for having me and I hope people will find my experience helpful.